Fly’n is the kind of game in which everything has eyes. Big, bold, bashful eyes, cute as buttons and shimmering with innocence. The plants have them, the anthropomorphic antagonist hair dryer has them and the player controlled critters have them, expressing emotions in a wordless world of squeaks and bleats. They’re a product of Fly’n’s visual inspiration, which channels the character and lush vibrancy of Botanicula’s fauna through the boldly contoured cartooning of Patapon and World of Goo, and it makes for a gorgeous, googly-eyed blend of influences.
The comparison with Amanita Design’s Botanicula is also apt in terms of Fly’n’s story and setting, which revolves around a trash merchant named Dyer taking up residence in a number of tiny cartoon-critter populated trees, polluting their ecosystems and enslaving their inhabitants. This provokes a band of tiny guardian creatures named Buds to make a perilous journey from root to branch in a bid to stop him.
Fly’n is gorgeous and adorable in terms of art style and premise, but simply being so is hardly a stand-out feature in a 2D platformer landscape brimming with gorgeous and adorable titles. It’s to the credit of developer Ankama Games then, that the quality of Fly’n’s vibrant visuals is matched by some solid gameplay, underpinned by an original set of platforming mechanics.
Mechanically, Fly’n is a pure puzzle-platformer. Each of the tear shaped ‘Buds’ has the same basic double-jump and gliding move set, as well as the ability to enter a parallel dream world by closing their eyes. Here, in a Nintendo style twist of level design – think Zelda’s various Dark Worlds, or Metroid Prime 2: Echoes’ Dark Aether – platforms of chunky blocks fade away, as silhouetted curving clouds and gusting streams of air are given form, and switching between the two dimensions becomes essential to progression.
Adding an additional layer of complexity on top of the duality of every levels’ design are the unique skills that each Bud possesses, indicated by their different colours. The blue Bud can sing, waking plants and animals, and transferring blobs of energy around levels to clear blocked paths; the black Bud can inflate like a puffer fish into an invincible bouncy ball and bound un-harmed across dangerous red surfaces; and the orange Bud can hover mid-flight, re-aim and launch like a shuttle cock in a new direction.
Each of these abilities opens up new possibilities for platforming traversal, and the puzzles weaved around them form the basis of Fly’n’s gameplay. Ankama’s design shines when progression requires a mastery of multiple Bud’s unique skills, as well as dimensional shifting. Using the bouncy black-ball to traverse one stage, only to find that darting back through it as the orange Bud in the dream world allows access to an unseen area is a surprising delight, one that Ankama’s design doesn’t capitalise on quite as frequently as it could have.
Those puzzles requiring the manipulation of multiple Buds are Fly’n strongest, proving both mentally and dextrously challenging. But for the most part, climbing up each of Fly’n’s five trees is a relatively simple affair, aided by the segregated level design. Each tree is separated into multiple discrete areas, with each area containing one or two challenges. Accessing a new area requires you to pass through a small transfer pod that serves not only as a restart point, but as a character select screen, allowing you to spawn as any of the available Bud colours lining its exterior.
The first half of Fly’n’s seven hour journey suffers from some extremely slow pacing as these pods are predominantly lined with a single colour, indicating a single solution to the puzzle ahead. It’s disappointing as the complex inventiveness of some later puzzles allows Ankama’s multi-faceted design to shine. And whilst there is only ever one correct colour of Bud that will allow for progression, experimenting with the possibilities afforded by the Bud’s diverse collective skillset is one of Fly’n’s greatest pleasures.
Experimentation with the wrong colour Bud is also a necessity should you hope to explore each tree’s multitude of Rayman style hidden nooks and covered crannies, each of which is filled with collectable pollen or globules of energy. There’s an abundance of collectables and minor challenges throughout, most of which add an optional, but welcome, layer of difficulty. Many levels open with Dyer holding an innocent plant creature hostage, whom you can only free by completing the level without dying.
Besides these easily failed, but ultimately inconsequential hostage situations, progression in Fly’n is something of a breeze. Too many of its puzzles boil down to entering an area, travelling to the end of three branching paths in order to collect energy balls, and using them to clear an obstruction, rinsed and repeated. These sections are the platforming equivalent of the fetch quest, and the formula’s overuse grows a little tiresome towards the end-game.
Fly’n’s other glaring issue is the inadequacy of the keyboard and mouse controls. There’s a dumbfounding level of dexterity required to double jump, glide, pause mid-air, re-direct and launch like a javelin with accuracy and good timing, and the latter stages of Fly’n contains many of these reflex testing moments. Playing with an Xbox controller absolves these issues, but using the keyboard and mouse is an issue during the more challenging segments.
Otherwise Fly’n is a mechanically solid, visually luxuriant package and one of the strongest results of Steam Greenlight so far. Even if it is hard to shake the feeling that it never quite soars atop the potential suggested by Ankama’s well design and varied set of platforming mechanics, Fly’n is a bountiful, occasionally inventive, dewy-eyed journey, well worth the price of admission.
Seven out of ten